Traveler’s Wallet

Once again, I am producing some large, traveler’s wallets.  While some are waiting their finishing touches, here’s the first of six.  They are all of the same general size and design but each has some variation in shape and closure type.

A simple wrap closure. This can accommodate a bulging wallet.

I think my dying is improving.  Having read more on the subject, I’ve been able to create a nice overall finish.  The dye is applied in many diluted layers and hand rubbed to force it into the leather.

The right size for many applications.

The leather is from a 6 – 7 ounce vegetable tanned cowhide that was a real beauty.   The side was just shy of 30 square feet.  To start working the nine foot long hide, I had to move my operation into the kitchen and onto the floor for initial cuts.  Maybe someday I’ll have a shop table big enough to accommodate something this size again.

The interior divider provides four pockets. Big enough to hold a load of cash, passport, and the separated slots are sized for standard identification or credit cards.

This wallet is perfect for keeping everything in one place for log term travel or to be used as a small clutch purse.

Edges are burnished to give a finished look and the body has been waxed with all-natural dubbin.

The thread is heavyweight bookbinder’s linen in dark gray (nearly black) so is absolutely period correct for the reenactors out there.

If you are interested in this or some of our other work, check out our Etsy shop, look at the previous sales, and read the reviews.

Have a great day!

Primitive Fishing

My fishing kit is coming together and I added another hook and leader last night.

DSC_0124 (6)

The left hook and gorge are made from deer cannon bone (metacarpal) and the right is whitetail deer antler.  The antler hooks are proving to be tougher and less likely to snap under tension.  The leaders here are yucca and stronger than I would have thought.  Hopefully, we can test them out sometime very soon.

Ghillie Making at Winter Count 2014

One of the many things taught at Winter Count this year was shoe making in the form of carbatina or ghillies.  These are relatively simple shoes notable for their one piece construction and generally involve very little sewing.  I am interested in how things are learned and for me, the process is more important than any other aspect.  Hopefully, students take away some knowledge that they can apply beyond the class setting and in an afternoon can learn something that they can use for life.

ghillieHistorical examples vary widely but tend to have a lot of similarity in the complex toe-cap.  Shoes are a difficult piece of clothing and protection because the fit is critical and even minor problems with the shoe will impact the feet in a negative way.

Marx-Etzel2The toe cap is formed by strips of leather overlapping which gives flexibility and room for expansion.  The simplest forms are one piece but better versions are found with insoles and outer soles to extend the life and create a sturdier shoe.

DSCN4029 DSCN4030 DSCN4031 DSCN4033 DSCN4034These were all made from premium oak tanned leather (ca. 8 oz. or 3.2 mm) which proves to be tough to cut but provides a long lasting shoe.  It was a great set of students in the classes and I think we ended up with 17 pair of shoes in the end.

An earlier post describing my journey into Ghillies can be found HERE.


Over the weekend, I was able to design and nearly finish a new leather haversack.  I’ve wanted to make one for a while but I’m always hesitant to start a big sewing project if I don’t think I’ll finish it in a short time… I hate lingering unfinished projects (not to say I don’t have a few lying around).

DSC_0613[update: outdoor photo of the finished haversack.]

DSC_0620So, while this idea has been bouncing around in my skull for some time, I was inspired by running across a beautiful bag from Morocco in a store in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago.  It was about 20″ square with a flap that covered the entire body and was supplemented by a small pocket inside and a larger, open pocket outside.  So voila!  That’s exactly the design I was pondering.

DSC_0609It didn’t occur to me to document the process right away, and I didn’t do it well, but here’s how to make a haversack in a few pictures and very few words.

A little historical trivia because I am an archaeological geek; “haversack” means “oats bag” and is associated with soldiering, pilgrims, and other travelers for at least two millennia.  Something very like this was carried by Roman Legionnaires and is shown on Trajan’s Column.  Here’s a likely reconstruction of their bag:

Click the image for more information.

Click the image for more historical information on this bag.

Okay, back to the business at hand.  The layout consists of three connected square sections, in this case 18″ x 54″ (18 x 3).  I happened to have a beautiful soft bend of 8 oz. vegetable tanned leather from Spain that just barely fit the size I needed.  This used most of the side, so I used some similar weight shoulder for the pockets.  I gave the whole thing a dye coat of tan water dye as the pieces were cut.

Below is the basic bag coming to life, outside pockets visible, with a third pocket inside, not shown.

DSC_0617I like the simplicity of this design, but at this point was forced to decide as to whether the stitching will be outside and visible making a flatter, but bigger bag (see backpack for external stitching).

Finished backpack

Click for larger.

An observation: folks who don’t MAKE stuff, don’t always appreciate the large number of steps in an apparently simple project like the above.  For example: the inside pocket must go on before the outer (so you can get to the stitches), rivets need to be set before they are hidden away, edges skived, beveled, and burnished, stitch holes punched, etc.  Above is the bag nearly ready to “close”.  Hope I didn’t forget anything.

I sewed it “inside out” to hide the seam and to puff out the body a bit.  Turning back out was quite a chore and took some struggling but in the end, I think it looks good.  It’s not really quite this red but that’s an issue with my camera and photography skills.

DSC_0609DSC_0614DSC_0615It shouldn’t be assumed that this is cheap.  The body alone is 6.75 square feet of leather meaning you need about 10 square feet of good hide to start with to make the entire bag.  With the materials and all the labor involved, it’s easy to see how a leather worker can often charge $500 or more for a similar project.  I buy up leather in quantity when the price is low when I can but this project still could cost over $150 in materials alone.

But in the end, it’s really an heirloom of a centuries-old design.  It will improve with age and hopefully this is a creation that will outlive me.